This short book is about cities. Specifically, we are concerned with the overall process of making cities (in other words urbanizing) and within this broad theme we focus on the practices of people working in cities and their experiences of housing in cities. Of course, cities are about much more than jobs and shelter but these two topics provide the basis for understanding how and why people come to cities and live there. Making a living and finding or creating shelter are prerequisites for surviving in the city and they can provide the basis for a fruitful, engaged and satisfying life as a citizen. They also give us some good starting points for thinking about the past, present and future of cities.

The study of cities is particularly important for global understanding. First, and as widely reported, more than half the world’s population now lives in urban settlements, and this is an ongoing trend likely to reach the level of three-quarters of the world’s population later in the 21st century. Second, the influence of cities extends beyond their specific locations to the point where, nowadays, cities are increasingly interconnected with one another across the globe. Moreover, almost all humans living on the planet, both urban and rural, contribute to the maintenance and growth of cities through provision of food and raw materials, industrial and service activities, as well as new migrants. These circumstances have led some commentators to suggest that humanity has become an “urban species” and to label our times the “first urban century”.

Our century has also been widely termed a “century of crises:” environmental (notably climate change), political (including wars and refugees), economic (especially financial crises and deepening poverty), social (with untenable and rising inequalities), and cultural (including rampant consumerism and growing social divisiveness). Of course, these multiple predicaments are interrelated and all are implicated as both causes and effects in this century’s distinctive urban condition. This, then, is a further crucial reason for seeking to understand cities. Moreover, these crises will be faced by urban residents of the future who will need all the ingenuity, collective effort and energy from their experiences to drive humanity in new directions through the 21st century.

There is a fourth and separate reason for studying cities: they are inherently noteworthy as complex aggregations of social problems and social benefits. On the one hand, there has been a long history of observers denigrating cities as dense concentrations of social problems; on the other hand, the broad mass of humanity clearly is strongly attracted to life in cities, which can also be important sites of progressive social change. The excitement of cities—traditionally “streets paved with gold” and today the “bright lights” of the modern metropolis—has also influenced urban scholars and researchers who have become fascinated by the varying capacities of people to make satisfactory lives for themselves within the dense, intricate material and social worlds of cities.

We seek here to capture something of the problems and excitement of cities in terms of four key cross-cutting themes which help us to get to grips with their complexity. These are:

  • The internal spatial structure of cities. Cities are composed of complex and multifaceted social phenomena. The distinctively urban character of these phenomena emerges out of their forms of spatial organization. For example, do cities enable productive interactions amongst different phenomena? Is it important to try to keep some activities, such as houses and factories, apart from one another?

  • The diversity of cities across time and space. One of the important facts about cities is that they vary greatly depending on history and geography. Ancient Mohenjo-daro, Classical Rome, Medieval Byzantium, 19th century Manchester, and 21st century Shanghai can all be described as great cities, but clearly each differs enormously in empirical detail from the others. What can we learn from all these different cities about the challenges and opportunities of urban life?

  • The external relations of cities. Cities are centres of dense human activities, but they are also connected to the rest of the world. Cities have always had strong external relations, which were crucial in their origins and which, in the era of globalization, have become especially well developed. What is the nature of these wider connections and why do they matter to cities?

  • The internal political conflicts endemic to cities. The dense concentration of diverse populations and activities in cities means that they are frequently the sites of internal political contestation. Questions of the “right to the city” and citizen demands for equitable outcomes constantly confront urban power structures. Who has the right to shape the future of cities?

We explore these themes in three substantive chapters. The chapter that now immediately follows (Chap. 2) asks how cities came to be, providing a wide survey of the history of city formation and focusing on the importance of the external relations of cities. These processes take on very different aspects at different times and in different geographical locations so various comparative assessments will also be explored. In Chap. 3 urban economies are described primarily in terms of their function as centres of work. The emphasis here is on the many different kinds of economic activities and employment opportunities that are typically found in cities, and it considers how the economic advantages, or agglomeration economies, to be gained by firms being located close together sustain the growth of cities. Chapter 4 focuses on housing and places special emphasis on the diversity of cities. Nonetheless, we identify some common processes and shared issues facing cities across the globe regarding the challenges of providing and accessing shelter, including the different roles of states, markets and residents. In a short concluding chapter we ponder what all this means for urban futures.

In each chapter we present examples from a variety of regions across the world, and there are also text boxes separate from the main text where we offer commentaries on specific topics. A number of relevant figures and tables are provided, and we offer some brief bibliographic information that readers can use to deepen their knowledge of the ideas presented. The book is intended to provide an introduction to urban studies for a wide international audience including both students and the general reader.